What Brexit do we want? The one Leavers promised

by Hugo Dixon | 05.08.2016

Brexit is going to be bad. So there’s a temptation to campaign for the least bad form of Brexit.

This is a mistake. No Brexit is a good Brexit – except in Leavers’ dreams. Rather than spending energy to ameliorate the Brexit terms, we should demand the Brexit that Leavers promised.

We know it’s impossible. But that’s not our fault.

Here are eight top promises Brexiteers shouldn’t be allowed to wriggle out of.

Single market access

A few days after the vote, Boris Johnson wrote in The Telegraph: “There will continue to be …. access to the single market.” We should demand full access – including for our financial services industry. The most obvious way of doing that would be to cut a deal with the EU similar to the one Norway has. The snag is that Norway has to offer free movement to EU citizens. If the government agreed to that, it would be breaking another top Brexiteer promise.

Take control

The Leave camp’s brilliant mantra was “Vote Leave, Take Control”. Well, let’s have a deal that keeps full access to the single market while taking back control. The problem with a Norway style solution is we move from being a rule-maker to a rule-taker. We wouldn’t take control; we’d lose control.

In the short run, we wouldn’t notice anything, because the rules that we would be obliged to follow would be the rules that we have spent four decades crafting. But as each year goes by, new rules would come in that didn’t take account of our interests. After a decade or two, the cumulative impact would be intolerable.

But the Brexiteers promised we’d take back control. So we must have control.


£350 million a week

Vote Leave promised us that we wouldn’t have to send Brussels £350 million a week. They won’t succeed, of course, in getting that amount of money back since we don’t even send it in the first place. Saying we did was a lie. What’s more, if we want full access to the single market, we’ll probably have to pay for it. Norway pays roughly the same on a net basis that we do per head. But the Brexiteers promised we’d get £350 million a week back from Brussels. So we must have it.

Free movement for our people

“British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down.” That’s Johnson again in The Telegraph on June 26. How on earth is the government going to deliver that if, at the same time, we are going to limit the ability of EU citizens to come here?

Our citizens abroad

“EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected, and the same goes for British citizens living in the EU.” Johnson again. What’s reassuring about this quote is the phrase “fully” protected. The government must deliver this, not some half-hearted protections.

Northern Ireland

Johnson promised that Brexit would leave arrangements on the Irish border “absolutely unchanged”. This is important because border controls would mess up the Northern Irish economy and possibly disrupt the peace process.

Keeping this promise is going to be tricky to square with two other Brexiteer promises. One is to stop free movement from the EU. How will we do that unless we close the border with the Republic of Ireland? The other is to cut free trade deals with other countries outside the EU. We might, for example, want to slash tariffs on trade with China. But how do we then expect the EU to let goods flow freely across the border into Ireland? Wouldn’t we just become a back door for cheap Chinese products to enter their market?


“We had one Scotland referendum in 2014, and I do not detect any real appetite to have another one soon.” That’s Johnson again. So we must demand that Brexit does not lead to the break-up of the UK.

Top table

“Britain is and always will be a great European power, offering top-table opinions and giving leadership on everything from foreign policy to defence to counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing.” Johnson, now foreign secretary, must deliver on this promise, even though it looks hard.

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    So what do we want from a Brexit deal? Single market access, control of the rules that govern our trade, £350 million a week back from Brussels, free movement for our people, full protection of the rights of British citizens living in the EU, no change to the Irish border, no independence for Scotland and a seat at the top table on EU foreign policy.

    If the government can deliver all that, brilliant. If it can’t, we don’t want Brexit at all.


    8 Responses to “What Brexit do we want? The one Leavers promised”

    • Simple!
      Referendum was only advisory
      Only represented less than 30% of population
      Parliament has authority to state it was not enough in the best interests of the country to risk the future.
      Therefore it will Be disregarded
      Britain will remain a leading member of the European Union.

    • I completely agree. Politicians must have the political courage to do what is in the best interests of the country. The Brexit process will cost a fortune.

    • There are a number of ordinary UK citizens who are engaging in the challenge to the Government triggering as concerned citizens in a “People’s Challenge” to the Government.

      I am one of the UK citizens.

      We are being represented by John Halford, Bindmans LLP.

      We are running a Crowd Justice campaign – https://www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/parliament-should-decide/ to fund there representation in the court hearing(s).

      This builds on the work done by Jolyon Maugham QC through his Crowd Justice campaign – https://www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/should-parliament-decide/

    • It’s funny how a very bad idea slowly morphs into a less bad idea through wishful thinking. On the other hand if UK politicians were for real, not just sleep walkers, there would certainly be talk of a second referendum, along the lines of what Ireland and Denmark went through.

    • You need to update your references, they are correct, but you need different ones, maybe dual source.

      Email me.

    • What were we promised? Ah yes- that “stride into the light” in IDS’s words as trumpeted in the Daily Mail. More like oncoming darkness at noon.

    • Though I would have voted remain if I had been allowed to vote, I think that the brexit horse has to run its course. The country is split and will stay that way if brexit is stopped now. A Dutch proverb: when you burn your bum, you have to sit on the blisters.